Next up is author Linda Foster...
Linda's words are: omnipotent, mellifluous, lassitude, inglenook, offing
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Ship of the Dead
“It’s a good thing that I don’t believe in ghosts,” I told the old man. His hands were trembling as he struggled to put the key into the lock. Eventually it clicked and he opened the door with a creak.
“That’s what the last lighthouse keeper said to me,” he replied. He glanced over his shoulder at me and motioned me inside. I stepped in and glanced around. The place wasn’t anything spectacular. I walked across the living room in a few steps. The furniture was old and clearly in need of repair, but it would do. It was free as long as I took care of the lighthouse.
“What happened to him?” I asked. This was a tiny town. I wasn’t about to buy into some hundred-year-old folk story passed down from generation to generation. Every town had their ghost stories.
“Don’t think that matters,” the man replied, scratching his beard. He looked down at the floor, not making eye contact with me. Strange, but I shrugged it off. The man sat down in a chair next to the fireplace, tucked away in the inglenook. “The bedroom is the door on the left. The bathroom is quite old, as is the water heater so you might want to make your showers quick. The kitchen has a stove, sink and a fridge. The essentials.”
“It’s perfect,” I told him earnestly. I had a long drive here, and I was exhausted. My eyes were heavy. Overcome with lassitude I would probably fall asleep the second my head hit the pillow. I had driven eighteen hours to get here, leaving my old town behind. My mother, the only family I had left there, passed away. I went into a horrible depression. I needed a new start. When I saw the ad for the job online, with free room and board I jumped at it. All I had to do was keep a light on, how easy was that? And deal with the “ghosts.” I almost snorted. It sounded like a good way to make sure the person working here did their job, but the only man seemed to truly believe it, and that made me curious.
“So the ghost legend,” I asked.
“The ship of the dead,” he replied. His eyes glazed over, and his brow furrowed. “The crew buried their gold on this very spot, right outside on the beach next to this house. The man who founded this town discovered their stash. When the pirates came to collect it, the man was waiting with an army of townspeople. It was an ambush and they townspeople killed the pirates. Their blood is said to have covered the beach, the tides red with it. The founder killed the captain, but not before he cursed the gold and the land, promising death to any who came here. The next night the vessel reappeared. The people of the town were asleep. The founder, fearing for his life, fled and left the rest of the people behind. He came back the next morning to find all of them gone. The beach was once again red with blood. He knew the curse was real, and the omnipotent spirits would continue to come, as promised to defend their land, and their gold. The man was prideful, and he didn’t want to give up on the property he claimed. He had already invested in the building of the town. He came back with a witch who gave him a lantern to put in his house. She had put her own spell on it to shield them from the evil spirits. This lighthouse was built over his home, and the light remains here, protecting the town. When the light goes out, the ship is able to return, and kill once more.”
I held back the urge to roll my eyes. Why were all ghost stories so predictable? Someone died, now the dead have nothing better to do than to haunt this spot for eternity. Please. I didn’t want to offend the man, but no story he could tell me would make me a believer. Still, I held my opinion to myself and waited – praying for a quick ending to the tale.
“That’s quite a story,” I told the man as I walked toward the door, hoping he would follow and leave.
“It’s not a myth,” the man snapped. I turned quickly toward him, and his eyes were wide, and his body was shaking. The intensity of his stare told me he truly thought it was real. “I’ve seen it.”
“The ghost?” I questioned with a raised brow.
“One night,” he continued. I instantly regretted asking anything about it. “I was a boy. Ten years old. I was awoken by a strange sound. A sweet tune, like a violin. I looked out my window and saw the light was out. It was very late, the keeper had gone to sleep hours ago. Then the ship appeared on the offing, the very edge where the sea meets the horizon. I had heard the myth, but like you I hadn’t believed it. Just a silly story the old people tell their kids.”
He shook his head, and wrung his hands.
“I was wrong,” the man whispered. He stood suddenly, and hobbled to the door. He paused, his hand on the knob.
“Whether you believe me or not,” he told me. “Do your job. The light must not go out.” With that he left and slammed the door.
Well, that was odd, but I was too tired to care. At the back of the living room were two doors. I opened the one on the left, certain that was the one he’d pointed to as the bedroom, but inside was a spiral staircase. I craned my neck, looking upwards. The lighthouse tower. I could see the light from where I stood at the bottom. This time I did roll my eyes, slamming the door closed.
I turned to the bedroom. It was tiny. There was a single bed in the corner, a small nightstand and a tilting dresser. It was barely enough room for me to stand. The furniture took up most of the space. But it was all I needed. It was free, I reminded myself again. I collapsed on the bed, the springs whining, and like I’d expected, was asleep seconds later.
Sometime later, I was woken by a faint sound. I had been dreaming of the tale the old man had told me. What I heard was a melody in the distance, a string instrument of some kind. It was mellifluous, a sweet and soothing sound that made me want to fall back asleep. Was I imagining it? It was exactly as the man had described it. Perhaps I heard it in the dream, and now it was stuck in my head?
No. The music grew in volume. Just slightly. Curiosity and a bit of paranoia got the better of me. I kicked away my sheet, sliding out of bed. The door to the bedroom was ajar. Had I left it that way? I was so exhausted I couldn’t recall. I slipped through the opening and slowly crept out into the living room. This is silly, I told myself, knowing that I was letting the story get to me. I didn’t believe in spirits, or any other supernatural story. It was all fake. Still my heart was beating quicker with each step I took. I walked toward the window the man had pointed toward, where the pirates had hidden their gold. I took a deep breath and looked out, then breathed a heavy sigh of relief and laughed out loud at myself.
No boat. I stood there laughing, unable to believe I’d actually gotten spooked. I couldn’t believe it. All that was out there was the beach, the rising tide, and some fog. No ship, no ghosts.
I began to turn when I saw a shadow pass slowly through the fog. That’s when I heard the music again. It was louder this time, and I knew it wasn’t in my head. Every rational part of my brain tried to think of where it could be coming from. I did not believe in ghosts. Was the old man playing a trick on me? I remembered the fear in his eyes, and his body language. His shoulders slumped over, his fidgeting hands. No. He was truly scared by the tale. So what was the shadow in the haze?
I inched closer to the window for a better look. The floorboards creaking under my feet. The shadow was still there. It was growing larger by the minute. I held my breath and waited as the mysterious object continued to get closer.
It’s just a story. It isn’t true. What the…
Out of the mist emerged a ship. The vessel was dark, with black sails. On them were skulls and crossbones. There was a faint green glow to it … and it was headed straight toward the lighthouse. If it wasn’t for the music I could convince myself this was just a normal ship. But the music was so loud now it sounded like it was coming from this very room. There was a faint chanting. I couldn’t make out the words, but the voices were male.
For a moment I stood there, not knowing what to believe. This had to be some sick joke. Ghosts didn’t exist. I could still be dreaming right? It still could be just a regular ship, a really loud one. But I’d grown up on the coast my entire life, and I’d never seen a boat like this one. I’d certainly never seen one flying pirate flags. Whatever it was, I needed to check the light. I backed away from the window and jogged toward the door where the stairs that led up the tower were. I swung it open and looked up. It was dark. The light was out.
I was going to go up there and relight it. It couldn’t hurt, and it was my job. It if was a real boat it could crash. I began to walk quickly up the steps, but the winding staircase was wobbly, forcing me to slow down. The tower must have been over a hundred feet high. The music continued to grow louder and louder. After a few minutes I could finally make out the words from the chant.
“You should take warning of the flag that we bear. What was ours was taken, by a man with no care. Now your village will be ours, your life we will not spare.” My foot slipped and a chill went up my spine. I continued to climb the stairs at the song continued.
“Trapped by the sea in a watery grave, our blood swept away in a deadly red wave. Now your light, your protection has been extinguished, and it is the time for you to relinquish. We fight for vengeance, our souls are relentless. You will pay with your lives. Take heed and hide, your end has arrived.”
I couldn’t help my heart from racing as I finally reached the top. The stairs ended, much like an attic. There was a hole above me. The hatch hung open, and I crawled up and out. As soon as my feet hit the ground I ran to the window. The shipped appeared to have stopped. I could barely see the chain on an anchor disappearing into the sea. When I looked to the beach it was covered in shoe prints. I frantically glanced around, but I saw no one. The prints headed straight up to the path that led to the lighthouse.
A crashing came from downstairs, of wood being broken. My head whipped in the direction of the sound, and moments later a commotion broke out. I could hear men yelling, footsteps from below. I crept toward the hole I’d crawled out of and saw shadows moving around. I pushed the hatch closed and twisted the lock, then turned to middle of the room, expecting to see a bulb to replace. Instead, there was very old-fashioned lantern. It actually had a candle in it. How had the light been so bright before? No lighthouse used candles. Then again, they didn’t have ghosts. I didn’t see anything to relight it up here. There were a few drawers, though, and I scoured the room, looking for a box of matches or a lighter.
I flung open one of the drawers. Empty. Another one, empty too. Drawer after drawer, cabinet after cabinet, bare. I only had two drawers left. The voices were so close now, and I could heard the steps of probably a dozen men. They must be coming up the stairs. When I flung the next one open I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, a box of matches.
I grabbed them and ran back to the middle of the room where the lantern sat. The footsteps and the yelling were getting so close that I doubted I had more than a minute or two left before they reached the access in the floor. I ripped open the box and pulled out a match. I struck it, but it didn’t light.
Pounding came at the hatch. I jumped and dropped the matchbox. The matches scattered, some falling into the cracks in the floor. Something else slammed into the wood, and it cracked. I whipped my head toward the hatch. Part of an axe stuck up through the wood. I needed to hurry up.
I grabbed the only match left, taking the box in the other hand. I struck the match, but again it didn’t light. Another slam of the axe into the hatch, followed by the sound of wood being ripped apart. I gave the match one final strike and prayed.
The man who owned the lighthouse looked out his window when the sun was just beginning to rise and saw the light was out. Memories of the last time flooded his mind, of the massacre. He pushed them aside, unable to deal with them. One night and the light was out.
The man ran down the path toward the shore and the lighthouse, only a few hundred yards away from his home. When he approached he slowed, noticing the door swinging open. It was banging off the side of the house in the cool morning breeze.
He turned to look at the shore. There were shoeprints that went from the house to the sea. Fear spiked in him as he entered the house. The furniture was beaten and overturned. The walls scratched up.
He walked up the stairs of the lighthouse tower. The hatch at the top was in pieces. The drawers were all open, scattered across the floor. The man pulled a lighter from his pocket, turned to light the candle, and screamed.
A bloody hand print was plastered on the lantern. The boy was gone.